The priority skill for success

By Kate Bennett, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Kate BennettOver the past few months I have been completing three separate courses of study, in three very distinct fields: leadership practice and development through the University of Sydney MBA program, kinesiology through the College of Complementary Medicine, and practical training with Lifeline to become a telephone crisis supporter.

Had I been asked several months ago about the priority skill shared by business, complementary medicine and crisis support I would have struggled to provide a response. In fact, I probably would have said something abstract (and completely off the mark!) like relationship management, effective communications or problem solving.

Never in my life would I have thought that the priority skill to succeed in all three fields would be something a lot closer to home: raw, unashamedly honest, objective and (most importantly) compassionate self-awareness.

To be honest, I’m not sure I really even understood the true meaning of self-awareness. I knew when I was angry, when I was sad, when I was being nice, when I was being rude… Surely that was being self-aware, right?

Not entirely. I would call this L-Plate, high level, superficial self-awareness. This is the kind of awareness that comes from observing your actions and emotions in a situation and recognising when you’re behaving in a way that either is or isn’t agreeable or socially acceptable (subjectively determined by your own beliefs and perceptions).

P-Plate self-awareness, on the other hand, involves heightened awareness of the behaviours you’re exhibiting at any given time, as well as an understanding of the impact that these behaviours are having on those around you, and (here’s the clincher) a willingness and desire to change.

Progressing to P-Plates requires a great deal of external data collection, enquiry and analysis – i.e. requesting feedback from others about your behaviour in order to gain a clear picture of how you actually present to the outside world. By building an understanding of the discrepancies between what you think you are doing and what you are actually doing, you can greatly enhance the effectiveness of your interactions with others.

The single most important skill difference between L and P-Plate self-awareness is the ability to graciously receive feedback and embrace it as an opportunity to develop and improve. If you view feedback as a criticism, or a personal attack on your ego that needs to be defended at all costs, then I’m afraid you will be confined to the restricted L-Plate speeds for quite some time!

Let’s say you do get these skills under your belt. Let’s say you are aware of how you’re behaving, you’re acutely aware of the how this behaviour impacts those around you, and you’re receptive to changing your behaviour in response to this feedback… surely that’s good enough, right? What more is there?

The full licence takes things to a whole new level – it begs the question why. Why are you adopting these behaviours? How do they serve you? What are they protecting you from?
The behaviours we adopt, and our response to external stimuli, are the result of a series of engrained beliefs we have carefully constructed since birth. We adopt behaviours to feel (or avoid feeling) a certain way, and so all our behaviours serve a particular purpose. The extent to which we’re consciously aware of this purpose, and whether or not that purpose is in our best interests, however, is not always certain.

It is very rare to have the opportunity to reflect on our own behaviours. In fact, often a sheer lack of self-awareness keeps us from even identifying the behaviours we’re exhibiting, let alone querying why we’re adopting them.

Fortunately, in addition to the analysis of professional behaviours through the leadership practice and development course, and the study of personal behavioural tendencies through kinesiology, my attempt to progress to a full licence has been facilitated by our Mental Clarity for Charity campaign as part of the Mindful in May challenge. This has required at least 10 minutes of meditation each day, and has given me a rare opportunity to reconnect with my inner self and reflect objectively on my outer-self behaviours. It’s amazing how much you can learn about yourself as soon as you switch off your mind!

I have developed a rather in-depth process of self-enquiry over the past few months, and have seen a definite progression in my level of self-awareness as a result. The questions I ask myself are:

1. How are you feeling?
2. How are you behaving?
3. What impact is this behaviour having on yourself?
4. What impact is this behaviour having on others?
5. Why are you behaving this way?
6. How are these behaviours serving you?

These last two questions are very VERY difficult to answer. Often I can spend days/weeks/months trying to get an honest response. However, when I do find one (generally when I turn off my mind and tune into my inner self) the value and transformation it unlocks is considerable. It’s amazing what we are subconsciously protecting ourselves from without even realising it, and how this “protection” can actually be limiting our ability to achieve what we truly want.

While it may be quite some time until I progress to a full licence in self-awareness, I have noticed the quality of my engagement with others has been much greater with even a conscious P-Plate effort. In fact, by being more aware of myself, I have become far more conscious of the enormous impact my behaviour can have on the lives of others. And this is where we draw the true benefits of self-awareness: when we are honest with ourselves, aware of how our behaviour is impacting others, receptive to change, conscious of how our behaviour is subconsciously serving us (be it positively or negatively), and courageous in pursuing a new type of behaviour, we are able to not only be the best versions of ourselves, but also to make the best possible contribution to those around us. Now that is true success.

And so, I have adopted one final question in my process of self-enquiry.

7. How can I transform these behaviours to ensure I am making the best possible contribution to the world around me?

Why? Because self-awareness (despite appearances) isn’t about self. It’s about being the most authentic and effective being you can be within your environment, about releasing self-created barriers to engagement so you can enhance the quality of your interaction and connection with those around you. At the highest expression of self-awareness, you are so attuned to yourself and your behaviours, and authentic in your dealings with others, that the focus moves from yourself and the confines of your ego and belief systems, to the greater good and the maximum contribution you can make to the world around you.

And that’s what makes self-awareness the priority skill for success, no matter what your profession.

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